Food producers adjusted to coronavirus situation, say domestic supply safe

Sirje Potisepp, head of the Estonian Food Industry Association (Toiduainetööstuse liit).
Sirje Potisepp, head of the Estonian Food Industry Association (Toiduainetööstuse liit). Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Demand for food in Estonia has grown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, though price rises are possible both due to increasing demand and rising costs associated with protective equipment and other coronavirus measures. Industry spokespersons say a focusing on a narrower range of staples helps ensure domestic supply.

While there has been a significant decline in school and accommodation orders, there has been an increase in grocery sales. However, as the crisis worsens, food prices may become more expensive, and so will the rise in the price of safeguards for food safety

Jaanus Murakas, head of E-Piima, which produces cheese, butter and milk powder for both domestic and foreign markets, told ERR that his company is trying to cope with the coronavirus situation based on the hope that its employees will not succumb to the virus, but the market situation has changed significantly. At the moment, there is a shortage of raw materials for dairy farmers, but this may change as many dairy farmers use external labor, he said.

"Demand from retail has grown, but from food producers, hotels, restaurants and ships, have all stalled," Murakas said.

"Our volumes depend on the quantities of raw materials we buy. At present, farmers are producing the same amount of milk, and so is our production. Farmers have a very serious problem with the availability of foreign labor, especially Ukrainian labor, however. There are farms where the milking or sheds are 100 percent Ukrainian[-staffed]," he went on.

"If they (farmers - ed.) can still continue to produce milk in the same way that this crisis won't hit them, our production will continue in the same volume. Then surely we will be able to produce all of our product that is intended for the Estonian market, and we will definitely continue to offer it to Estonia as well."

Sirje Potisepp, chairman of the Estonian Food Industry Association (Toiduainetööstuse liit), said the domestic food industry is currently focused on production, but all producers have been forced to adjust to the restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. However, there is no reason to panic, she said.

"Our biggest problem today is panic buying by consumers. There is no need to panic; companies have one to two months' supply (of raw materials-ed.). Every day, companies are working to maintain raw materials, ordering packaging," said Potter.

Potisepp noted that in emergency situations, companies have made changes to their selections, reducing the spread of these and focusing on those products that are more in demand and that have increased their turnover dozens of times. 

"We have very good self-sufficiency in basic raw materials in Estonia, we are on track and we are at work," Potisepp said.

Regarding issues facing the food industry, Potisepp pointed out that it does not have enough personal protective equipment.

"When we do manage to get them from somewhere, of course their prices have already risen many times," she said.

Potisepp noted that food price increases were not on the table at present, though a rising demand at least made this a risk.

"However, for the time being, we would not think of making rises in food prices. This risk is, of course, present all the time, especially as demand increases," she added.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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